The Armenian genocide formally addressed by Joe Biden

Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, along with then-president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, at a 2015 commemoration of the Armenian genocide. (photo: Twitter, Samantha Power)

President Joe Biden of the United States has officially recognized the Armenian genocide, putting an end to a decades-long policy of denial.

Biden made the historic announcement on April 24, the 106th anniversary of the expulsion from Istanbul of more than 200 members of the city's ethnic Armenian elite, which is now considered the start of the genocide. According to Biden's declaration, "one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination." “All those Armenians who perished in the genocide that started 106 years ago today are remembered by the American people.”

For decades, the US has avoided using the word "genocide" in order to preserve good ties with Turkey, which continues to deny that the massacres were genocide. However, as the US-Ankara relationship has deteriorated, so have the reasons for preventing genocide recognition.

The United States Congress passed a resolution recognizing the genocide for the first time in 2019, but many supporters of genocide acknowledgment objected to the timing. The resolution was passed shortly after Turkey launched a military operation in northern Syria, and many of its supporters in Congress described it as a way to punish Turkey for it.

This time, however, the tone of the acknowledgment was less tit-for-tat revenge and more strong appreciation of the fact that the United States' relations with Turkey did not preclude it from accepting the reality of what happened in 1915. “We reaffirm the past. We're doing this not to point fingers, but to ensure that what happened doesn't happen again,” Biden said.

Although Ankara's reaction was understandably vehement, many Turkish observers believe that the genocide problem has waned in significance in recent years. On Twitter, The Economist's Istanbul correspondent Piotr Zalewski wrote, "A decade ago, Armenian genocide recognition would have been the biggest crisis in US-Turkey relations." “It just cracks the top ten today.”

“I owe the Turkish outrage loop three days, tops, after Biden's declaration,” said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey historian at St. Lawrence University. “Then it'll be back to the same shabby, harried partnership we've all come to expect.”

Turkey had been moving closer to recognizing the genocide under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until recently, but that momentum has since been reversed due to Erdogan's newly nationalist turn.

On the anniversary, Erdogan made an unusually generous speech, praising the "common culture" of Turks and Armenians and acknowledging the latter's contribution to Ottoman and Turkish life, though he didn't name the massacres genocide. “I remember the Ottoman Armenians who died in the harsh conditions of the First World War with gratitude, and I give my condolences to their grandchildren,” he said. However, the remark was made in the context of a wider rise in government-sanctioned anti-Armenian hate speech.

Armenians hailed Biden's declaration as long overdue, but particularly so given their sense of abandonment following last year's war with Azerbaijan when they were unable to enlist much international support. Azerbaijan benefited greatly from Turkish help during the war, as it was able to reclaim the majority of the territories lost to Armenians during the previous conflict between the two countries in the 1990s. Many Armenians believed that their confrontation with Azerbaijanis, whom many associates with Turks, was another chapter of the genocide because of Turkey's involvement.

In a statement, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said, "The recognition of the Genocide is a matter of fact, historical justice, and protection to the Republic of Armenia, particularly in light of the events that occurred in our region last year."

Azerbaijan, too, linked the acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide to its own conflict with Armenians. After the war, Azerbaijan's long-standing warm relations with Turkey have grown even stronger, and officials in Baku have lined up to express their support for Turkey. President Ilham Aliyev called Erdogan and called Biden's remarks "historically incorrect."

Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also chastised Biden for failing to acknowledge a "genocide" perpetrated by Armenian forces against ethnic Azerbaijanis in the village of Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1992, which killed over 400 civilians.

The failure to provide a reasonable assessment of the genocide perpetrated by Armenia against Azerbaijanis in Khojaly 30 years ago, while misrepresenting events that occurred 100 years ago, is an indication of prejudice and double standards, according to the MFA.

Publish : 2021-04-26 11:34:00

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